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N.B. education minister says teachers will follow provincial policy on pronouns, not DECs

Click to play video: 'New school year set to begin with Policy 713 changes in effect'
New school year set to begin with Policy 713 changes in effect
WATCH: With school starting again next month, New Brunswick Education Minister Bill Hogan says teachers will be expected to follow the provincial policy on gender identity in the classroom – not the strengthened versions passed by some district education councils. Silas Brown explains – Aug 9, 2023

According to New Brunswick Education Minister Bill Hogan, when schools reopen their doors in about a month’s time, teachers will need parental permission to use the preferred name or pronoun of a student under 16, despite policies passed by some district education councils.

“The province’s policy, aged under 16, parental consent is required,” he said.

“There’s only one policy, the provincial policy.”

In June, Hogan announced changes to the policy that no longer make it mandatory for teachers to use preferred pronouns for students under 16 if they don’t have parental consent.

Shortly afterwards, the Anglophone East and South district education councils (DECs) passed strengthened versions of Policy 713 that effectively restore a particular section to its previous iteration, saying that all students will be referred to in ways consistent with their gender identity, no matter the age.

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“We felt that students were being made unsafe by the changes made to Policy 713,” Anglophone East District Education Council member Kristin Cavoukian told Global News in an interview in June.

“We felt that (the changes) were poorly thought out, and there was a lack of consultation both with people with lived experience and with experts. And we saw the possibility for this to have terrible impacts on some of the most vulnerable students in our school.”

Policy 713 sets out the standards to ensure an inclusive environment for members of the LGBTQ2 community in the province’s schools. The policy also allows for DECs to “develop policies and procedures that are consistent with, or more comprehensive than, this provincial policy.” But Hogan says they aren’t allowed to develop policy that contradicts provincial policy.

“The Education Act is very clear: provincial policy supersedes district policy. Districts have the authority to improve or strengthen a provincial policy, but they can’t do anything that is contrary to the provincial policy,” he said.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said Hogan shouldn’t interfere with locally elected DECs who are the most in touch with how parents in a given community are feeling.

The changes to Policy 713 unleashed a political firestorm that has continued to burn across the province over the summer. Eight members of the government caucus, including six ministers, spoke out against what they called a lack of “consultation and process.”

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Six of those MLAs voted with the opposition parties to call on the province’s child and youth advocate to review the changes and report back by Aug. 15.

That rebellion cost four ministers their cabinet portfolios and has sparked a push for a review of Premier Blaine Higgs’ leadership of the PC Party.

Both Higgs and Hogan said the original policy hid information from parents, who should ultimately know what’s happening with their kids at school. Educational experts and LGBTQ2 organizations said the changes could be harmful to queer youth and lead some to stay in the closet.

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